Antigone (an-TIH-guh-nee), the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, engaged to marry Haemon, son of King Creon and Queen Eurydice of Thebes. After Oedipus’ death, Oedipus’ son Eteocles ascended to the throne, but after one year he broke an agreement with his brother Polynices to share power with him. This action provoked a civil war in which both brothers were killed. Creon then became king. He ordered that the body of Polynices not be buried in order to discourage further rebellion. Antigone realized that Creon’s decree violated Greek religious law, which required that a body be buried before a soul could cross the River Styx. Were she to obey Creon’s arbitrary law, Antigone would violate her religious beliefs. She risks her life to observe a higher moral code. Creon offers to spare her life if she promises not to try again to bury Polynices. Antigone refuses, however, to compromise her moral principles. Creon then condemns her to death. Antigone’s death provokes the suicides of both Haemon and Eurydice.
Creon, Oedipus’ brother, an uncle to both Antigone and Ismène. He is a cynical dictator who demands blind obedience to his laws from others but grants absolute powers to himself. He affirms that social order has nothing to do with moral and political freedom. He treats Antigone condescendingly and does not want to understand Antigone’s refusal to compromise her moral beliefs. Antigone correctly predicts that his abuse of power will alienate Creon from his family and his subjects. After the suicides of his son, Haemon, and his wife, Eurydice, Creon is alone, but no one feels pity for him.
The Nurse, a middle-aged woman who has cared for Antigone for many years. She wants Antigone to be happy. She relates that Antigone left home very early in the morning, but she does not imagine that it was to bury Polynices. Like all the other characters, she cannot predict that the serious but vulnerable Antigone will risk her life to remain faithful to her religious beliefs.
Ismène (ihs-MEE-nee), Antigone’s older sister, a vain and unsympathetic character. Ismène is excessively concerned with clothing and her physical appearance; only marriage and social success are important to her. She tells Antigone that young women should be indifferent to political and moral problems. Although Ismène claims to love her sister, she, like Creon, treats Antigone condescendingly. Ismène’s superficial arguments have no effect on Antigone.
Haemon, the son of Creon and Eurydice, a young adult. He and Antigone share a profound love for each other, and they look forward to having children together. When Haemon learns that Creon has condemned Antigone to death, he confronts his father. He rejects Creon’s specious assertion that maturity requires Haemon to accept unjust and amoral laws. Like Antigone, Haemon adheres to a higher moral code. Near the end of this play, both Haemon and his mother, Eurydice, commit suicide offstage.
The chorus and
The prologue, roles traditionally interpreted by the same actor. Both comment regularly on the moral and psychological significance of the actions in this tragedy. The chorus and the prologue express ethical reactions to Antigone’s self-sacrifice and to the suffering caused by Creon’s abuse of power.
The three guards
The three guards, decent people exploited by their military and political superiors. They do not understand why Creon so adamantly opposes burying Polynices. The guards carry out their orders to watch over Polynices’ body out of their fear of Creon.
Antigone, the protagonist, is driven by her fate, compelled even before the play begins, to act out her part till the end. Thus she is really two characters: an actress playing a role, and Antigone, the character she plays. This duality,...
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